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State Sets Standards: English Common Core Curriculum

 Cartoon drawn by Angelina Wang

Cartoon drawn by Angelina Wang

by Jessalyn Li

In third grade, students in public schools throughout New York State take their first standardized tests: the ELAs and SAMs. These tests are used to measure both teachers’ and students’ performances. After that first exam, similar yet more difficult tests are given each subsequent year.

In 2009, officials, education commissioners, and leaders from forty-eight states and two territories met to discuss education standards across the nation. The standards agreed upon at that meeting have since become known as the Common Core Standards, designed to “give United States students a world-class education,” according to the Common Core website. Common Core Standards aim to make curricula increasingly challenging and uniform for students all over America.

In the 2013-2014 school year, a Common Core system was set in place for mathematics at Great Neck South. In the upcoming 2015-2016 school year, Common Core English standards will be adopted, bringing a new English Regents in eleventh grade and a modified English curriculum to match.

So what exactly is the format of this new Regents? According to Mr. Michael Moran and Ms. Jennifer Hastings, both English teachers at South, the test will consist of three portions: reading comprehension, an argument essay, and a text analysis.

The reading comprehension section is composed of three passages: one fiction excerpt, one poem, and one non-fiction excerpt. This section will include harder questions than before with “answers not as obvious as before,” Ms. Hastings said.

The second component, the argument essay, consists of several documents, which students will draw from to write an essay taking a stance on the issue presented.
The third portion of the test is the text analysis. A text will be given to students, who not only have to understand the author’s purpose but also describe how the author uses a specific technique to support that purpose. So far, the passages have been non-fiction, dating back to pre- and early twentieth century American writings. And with the usage of these texts comes the incorporation of humanities and social studies in English.

In terms of curriculum, a larger emphasis will be placed on non-fiction and literature that Common Core considers “more difficult.” The English department is planning on modifying the curricula to better prepare for the new exam. Mr. Moran plans to add more non-fiction titles to his future classes. He has already had his ninth grade classes read The Color of Water by James McBride, a memoir of a man with a white mother and black father.

The Common Core English Regents is more a “test of ability” than the previous Regents has been, Mr. Moran said. While this may seem tough, he points out that students have already been learning all the techniques needed to succeed on this exam; for example, annual research papers teach students in each grade how to formulate arguments and synthesize information from varied sources.

Though Common Core skills seem to set the bar higher, many teachers believe they will positively benefit students. In college, writing research papers and reading critically are necessary skills. Mr. Moran added that even beyond college, one should know how to recognize, comprehend, and formulate arguments as part of daily life. He also believes that making students work harder for the English Regents is not a bad thing. “Too many students think the Regents exams are easy.”

Though English Common Core is more demanding, students can prepare for the new curriculum even before entering the class. Mr. Moran encourages students to read. “Just read everything: read more nonfiction, memoirs, and challenging titles.”

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